For the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, there is no priority more important than the development of the next generation.
While the foundation uses its generous endowment to support a wide variety of interests, education and children are clearly near the top of the priority list. And the latest grants make clear that the foundation is not afraid to straddle the line between education and politics.
The foundation itself may be new, but the family that runs it has plenty of experience in the philanthropic world. Its roots are in the wealth of Shelby Cullom Davis, a writer, businessman, politician, and philanthropist. His wealth was passed down to the Kathryn W. Davis Foundation, which is now the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation that still carries plenty of weight in conservative circles today.
Given this long history, it’s no surprise that many of the foundation’s grantees are long-term beneficiaries. Groups like the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies receive consistent support.
However, 2012's crop of grantees include a number of new faces, many of them geared toward education and education policy. Grants under the educational banner have grown steadily over the last three years, totaling $763,000 in 2012 alone.
Many of these grants are apolitical. For example, the foundation for the first time supported Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit that provides teacher training, behavioral interventions, and other services for low-performing public schools in areas with high poverty. The goal is to give students at these schools a better environment to learn — and thus a better opportunity to succeed.
On the political side, the foundation launched its first-ever support for the Goldwater Institute, where a $5,000 donation is supporting the “Education Savings Accounts: Challenges and Choices for Every Child” initiative. Education Savings Accounts are much like school vouchers, except that they give parents even wider latitude to spend their student’s funds. The money can be used for private school tuition, as school vouchers are, or purchases like tutoring services and books. The program has been implemented in Arizona, and the Goldwater Institute joined the state attorney general in defending its constitutionality in a court case.
Like the Like the Turnaround for Children project, the foundation believes the Education Savings Accounts effort will help underprivileged students – in Arizona, it is aimed at children with special needs and children in underperforming schools.
This is a common thread in much of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation’s grant-making. Those who break into the foundation’s selective group of grantees are often providing services to underprivileged children or advocating for conservative public policy that they believe will help them.